WebOS differs from competing operating systems in the way it accesses information from the cloud, thereby synchronizing information across multiple devices. When a user logs in to the operating system on whatever device, all his or her information just shows up. If the user owns multiple WebOS devices, it’s easy to transfer information from one to another. Literally touching the devices to each other can share a link or a note through a feature called Touch-to-share. This feature uses the same induction coil technology that can be used to charge the devices wirelessly. Users can flick text messages, incoming calls, or other notifications between devices.
HP executives also showed off the operating system’s slick ability to manage multiple tasks at once. Users can control open applications by moving them around onscreen, flicking them off screen to close them. “We can do this because with WebOS, multitasking was not an afterthought—it was a design principle from day one,” said Sachin Kansal, a director of product management.
HP released the Veer, Pre 3, and Touchpad together in part to showcase how well they work in concert. “HP is throwing down the gauntlet by challenging Apple, its Cupertino neighbor, at its own game of vertically integrated hardware and operating systems,” says Dan Hays, a partner and consultant at PRTM, a global management consulting firm.
But despite the many attractive features of WebOS and these three new devices, experts predict that HP faces an uphill battle. Sarah Rotman Epps, a senior analyst with Forrester Research, calls the integration between phone and tablet “a nifty whizbang,” but adds that “it’s unlikely that consumers will buy into the whole phone-tablet ecosystem.”
HP also needs to get developers on board, since apps are a big part of any device’s appeal these days. While WebOS always received accolades for its design, it never attracted the developer firepower of Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android, leaving much of its promise unfulfilled.
Hays notes that “right now WebOS is a distant sixth in the number of applications available to end users, far behind not only Apple and Google, but even trailing the likes of Nokia, RIM, and Microsoft.” No matter how compelling the designs of the new devices are, Hays believes, WebOS is sunk unless it can catch up on its content deficit. This may be even more difficult, he says, because with WebOS HP is snubbing its usual partners Microsoft and Google.
HP is throwing its considerable resources behind WebOS. At yesterday’s press conference, Rubinstein hinted that consumers may soon see WebOS on printers and PCs as well as on the devices announced this week. This could perhaps offer another way to attract developers to the platform.
Despite the challenges, Epps believes HP’s TouchPad “is a solid bid for number two in the tablet market.” The device’s advantages will probably win out over BlackBerry, she says, and consumers are more likely to trust HP for a tablet than Samsung and Motorola, which make Android-powered devices. But she does not think it has a chance of dislodging the dominant iPad, especially since Apple is expected to release a second-generation version this year.